Our stuff wants us to keep it. It tries so hard.
Even if we know it’s not useful to us in our current season of life.
Our stuff begs. It pleads with us that it really is valuable.
It’s a lot easier to get rid of things like clothes that don’t fit, kitchen appliances we don’t use, broken objects, furniture we no longer like, and ancient worthless electronics we’ve replaced. That’s the easy stuff, and where everyone should start their decluttering adventures.
But once we’re past decluttering all of the easy things, sometimes we hit a wall, because our personal things are so convincing. And some of the non-personal stuff knows how to make us hold on, too.
Our stuff has perfected a few arguments, and we’ll hear them over and over (if we listen).
4 Ways Our Stuff Tries to Convince Us to Keep It
- “You CREATED me. You MADE me. Therefore, I’m a part of you. I’m basically one of your kids. How could you get rid of me?”
- Photographs we’ve taken,
- Paintings we made in an art class to practice a certain technique,
- Papers we wrote in high school,
- A blanket we spent a month crocheting.
- “You spent time on me! If you don’t keep me, those hours, months, years, of your life were basically worthless.”
- Certificates from continuing education units we earned,
- A chair we tried to re-upholster three times and spent countless hours on – but still looks awful despite its awesome potential,
- Forms and contracts we created for a business we no longer operate,
- Materials for crafts or hobbies we used to do a lot but have since abandoned.
- “You spent money on me. It’s your job to try to recoup at least some of that! I was expensive, so I must still be worth a lot. Even though you don’t need me anymore, you should keep me around until you sell me for a fraction of what you think I should actually be worth.”
- Really nice designer suits from when we used to have the kind of jobs that required them,
- Beautiful non-IKEA furniture,
- Hand-woven baby wraps.
- “I might save you time, money, or fuss later. Even though you have no use for me now, you can imagine a future in which you’ll need me again. I’m kind of like insurance. No one should be without insurance!”
- Snow suits we might use if we ever go back to the icy tundra of Wisconsin even though we’ve lived in Arizona for four years and have no plan to move,
- That extra computer desk which would be great if our next house or next-next house has enough space for an office so that we don’t need to share one desk with our husbands anymore,
- The microwave we didn’t need in this house because it had one already in it but which we might want in the next house – if it doesn’t also have one built in,
- The non-standard allen wrench that came with a piece of furniture we no longer own which might come in handy for tightening something else non-standard someday.
We need to take ownership of our stuff, not let it own us. Only then will we be able to let it go.
How to Say No to Our Stuff
- Flex our “Let Go” muscles. Letting go can be really hard, especially with our persuasive stuff trying to talk us out of it. But the more we do it, the easier it gets. It’s a muscle we can build up through lots of exercise, or which will atrophy through non-use. The freedom that comes after letting go is difficult to understand until we’ve experienced it, so trying is the first step.
- Take that pile of “to garage sale” stuff to the donation center today.
- Mail your beautiful baby wrap to your pregnant friend.
- Bring your excess books to the library.
- Donate your suits to Dress for Success.
- Let those “Let Go” muscles get buff.
- Remove our identity from the stuff we own. Just because we produced an item doesn’t mean that it’s part of us, or more important or special than other items as long as it’s unwanted and unused.
- That huge crocheted blanket that took me a month to make for my boyfriend in college (now my husband) could barely cram into my washing machine. It was heavy and impractical, and it was not actually a physical manifestation of my love for my husband. So it was okay to release the grip.
- The drawings and paintings I made in high school and college art classes as a way to learn techniques were simply physical records of exercises and lessons I did, not art. With the exception of a couple of pieces I really love (which are framed and displayed in my home), recognizing that these were simply exercises allowed me to let go of the rest of my portfolio easily.
- Do you have stuff that’s trying to convince you it’s a part of you? Tell your stuff it’s wrong. It’s just stuff.
- Disconnect the past from the future. Time or money we spent on a project or item in the past is time or money that is gone forever. Continuing to own these things will only use more of our time. And any money that might possibly be made from selling our stuff is in no way connected to what we paid for it.
- We need to determine whether we would “adopt” the project to complete or the item to sell if we were to find it in a yard sale.
- Then, if the answer is yes, we should set a deadline so that it won’t use our time and energy indefinitely.
- If we haven’t prioritized the project and finished it in thismanyweeks, we’ll let it go. Or if the item hasn’t sold by suchandsuchadate, we’ll donate it. And although selling by auction or “OBO” (or best offer) might leave us with less money than what we felt the stuff was worth, any money is better than none, and a faster sale lets us keep more of our time.
- Be a wise gatekeeper. Anything we bring into our homes will either serve our priorities and enrich our lives OR use our space, mental energy, and time (without giving back to us) until it’s no longer in our lives. Once we accept ownership of an item, we are that item’s steward until the end of its time with us.
- That means that if it serves our priorities, we use it until it’s used up or worn out. And if it turns out that it doesn’t enrich our lives, we store it and let it rot while it clutters our minds, or pass it on to another person whether by selling, gifting, or donating it.
- If the latter doesn’t sound like much fun, it’s best to not let those items into our homes in the first place, if we can keep them out. At a fair, when our local bank hands us a nylon drawstring bag with their logo on it, filled with a frisbee, water bottle, and brochures, it’s okay to hand the bag back to the person running the booth and say, “No thank you.” And buying three dresses to try on at home and then return if they don’t work for you might save time in the store, but ultimately requires more time and effort on your part (yes, even if you’re “already going back to that store anyway”).
Ready to get started?
All it takes is 15 minutes to make a difference in your home. 15 minutes a day is all you need to exercise your “Let Go” muscle. If you need specific 15-minute tasks to get you started every single day, Hardcore Homemaking emails will be perfect for you.
Go visit a closet or pile that’s been using the tactics above to convince you to keep the things filling it.
And break up with one item.
Remove your identity from the stuff you own. Tell your stuff, “You are not a part of me.” Or try, “You don’t define me.”
Disconnect your past from your future. Tell your stuff, “My time is more important than you are.” Or, “Your current value is independent of what I spent on you.”
And moving forward, be sure to be a wise gatekeeper. When you let stuff into your home, you’re allowing it to use your time, energy, and space, and giving it the chance to convince you to keep it forever+ever+ever+ever. It’s okay to say, “No thanks,” and save yourself the trouble, if the things don’t align with your priorities and goals for your home, yourself, and your family. (Need help determining your priorities and goals? I’ve got you covered.)